Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sala Udin a Life on the Hill Chapter 8 Pittsburgh City Council in August 1997, City Council Voted to Establish a Panel of Civilians Who Would Investigate Complaints against City Police

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sala Udin a Life on the Hill Chapter 8 Pittsburgh City Council in August 1997, City Council Voted to Establish a Panel of Civilians Who Would Investigate Complaints against City Police

Article excerpt

Sala Udin drove a rental car from Pittsburgh to Detroit on a cloudy and unusually cool August day in 1992. Checked into a hotel and unpacked his bags. Sala was accustomed to sleeping in places of crisp yet unfamiliar bed sheets. Since moving west, first to Los Angeles and then San Francisco, Sala had continued to engage in the nation's long and tragic struggle with substance abuse, working with drug treatment organizations in cities across the country.

Years earlier he had uprooted himself from Pittsburgh but maintained his hometown contacts. Sala tried to be a long-distance father, making frequent trips back to Pittsburgh, bringing his kids to California for summer visits. But Bomani, Salim and Patrice Howze were growing up without the daily presence of their father.

Then cancer invaded the body of Sala's mother, Mary Howze. Sala wanted to be near in her moment of pain and sickness. His work was such that it did not matter where he was staying, so long as it was close to an airport and an interstate highway. So he began spending more and more time in Pittsburgh.

In Detroit, Sala settled into a routine. He picked up the hotel phone, dialed a number, listened to phone messages. That's how he got the news. Delivered by a familiar voice, that of his sister, in a room strange to him.

For the second time in his life, Sala traveled home to bury a parent.

Mary Howze always seemed to be working two jobs, as a cleaning lady at Holy Trinity in the Hill District or the Enright Theater in East Liberty, and as a housekeeper for Jewish families in Squirrel Hill. Sometimes she'd come home bearing food she'd received as gifts -- Matzo balls, gefilte fish. Her children did not always savor these foods, but since they were offered as gifts Mary expected her brood to eat. Mary made certain her young children were respectful, fed, dressed and sent off to school with completed homework.

Married life could be difficult for Mary. William Howze was a hardworking, hard-drinking man, and as his health declined near the end of his life, living with him could be hell. But Mary, devoutly religious, was patient when William wasn't. She seemed to understand what most tormented her husband: A chronic, painful illness had robbed him of his identity as a man of heavy labor, a provider.

She'd been patient, as well, with her seventh child, stubborn as his father. Sala had made decisions that certainly pained her. He'd fought with his father, quit school, fled from home, traveled south against her wishes, discarded the name she'd given him. Still, Mary always supported him, even when so many others did not. Now, as Sala drove from Detroit to Pittsburgh, he asked himself, "How am I going to live in a world that doesn't include mama?"

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Less than six months after burying his mother, Sala suffered another loss - the death of friend Jake Milliones.

Sala and Jake had worked together for years, at the Pittsburgh Afro American Institute and at Ile Elegba.

Jake entered politics in the 1980s, serving on the city's school board, then winning a city council seat. A few years into his first term on council, Jake asked Sala to organize and run his city hall office. At the time, Sala worked as a traveling consultant, but the job gave him enough flexibility to accept a part-time position as his friend's chief of staff.

Then suddenly Milliones was gone, felled by a heart attack in January 1993. The city had lost a strong and progressive voice on council. A small group of Jake's supporters urged Sala to fill the void. Sala did not think of himself as a politician.

But Jake's supporters persisted, and so Sala joined a crowded field of eight candidates. The district faced a lot of problems. Chief among them, Sala said at the time, was the "supersaturation of drug-trafficking and gun-trafficking and the subsequent violence."

Election Day arrived and Sala was optimistic. …

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